IF IT’S GOOD enough for movies or music, then why not for comics?
The idea of a film festival taking over a town for a few days doesn’t sound so novel in North America, but the notion of non-superhero cartoons and sequential storytelling swarming a metropolis for several days can still sound like something out of science fiction — or France.
But Jeff Smith, the acclaimed “Bone” creator, shares a dream to build and maintain such an ongoing civic jewel to celebrate comics, in the spirit of the annual French festival in Angoulême.
And that dream takes flight with Cartoon Crossroads Columbus, a festival that is unfolding over several days with talks, seminars and exhibits in collaboration with Ohio State University’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, concluding Sunday.
“Angoulême is one of our models,” Smith, the CXC president and artistic director, told The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs. “The idea of a festival that has events taking place all over town is something Americans associate with film festivals or South by Southwest, but not with cartooning.
“We want to change that.”
The CXC marquee boasts top talent from many disciplines within the art of graphic storytelling, including cartoonists Raina Telgemeier (“Ghosts“), Charles Burns (“Last Look“), Garry Trudeau (“Doonesbury”) and The Post’s Ann Telnaes.
“We have a broader focus then usual comic shows,” Smith said. “We want to celebrate comic-strip artists like Garry Trudeau, comic-book artists like Ron Wimberly and Stan Sakai, and even feature-film animators like director Mark Osborne.
“A few of the artists I haven’t met before, like Keith Knight, Julia Gfrörer or Wimberly, and I’m super-stoked.”
Even just a decade ago, Smith believes, such a festival would probably not have been possible in the United States.
“How to explain this rise of interest in comics and cartooning in the general population?” Smith says. “It’s partly due to manga, and to the popularity of superhero movies, but here in Columbus, it appears to be centered more on the rise of graphic novels, which focuses more on the art form, and the creators as authors and artists, than pop-culture characters.”
Columbus had grown as a home for a comics festival partly from a confluence of institutions that support, teach and inform about the art form. CXC is about coordinating those efforts.
“It was six years ago that the Columbus Museum of Art was first in the nation to display all 300 original pages of R. Crumb’s ‘Book of Genesis‘ in chronological order across five galleries,” the CXC director said. “Eight years ago, the [city’s] Wexner Center for the Arts made an exhibit of my original art, then followed it with an exhibit of Dan Clowes.
“Meanwhile, OSU’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum moved into its new, swanky home at the gateway to campus. Across town, the Columbus College of Art & Design was bringing in world-class speakers like Chris Ware and Marjane Satrapi. And, of course, we have the Billy [museum], which has been bringing in master cartoonists like Art Spiegelman, Will Eisner and Ben Katchor for decades.”
The origin of CXC lies in the Billy Ireland Museum’s longtime tri-annual Festival of Cartoon Art.
“When founding curator Lucy Caswell was approaching retirement, she asked my wife, Vijaya, and I if we had any ideas for updating the festival, because the library was considering ending it,” Smith said. “Well, Vijaya and I have traveled the world going to comics events and we did have ideas. Like making the city a character in the festival, encouraging exhibits and appearances all over town.”
And the driving theme of an event like CXC is to foster comics as a community.
“We celebrate the art of cartooning in all its many forms and celebrate the creators as artists and authors,” Smith said. However, “we also put a great deal of emphasis on encouraging the current and next generation of cartoonists by offering panels, workshops and opportunities for younger artists to mingle with experienced practitioners of the art.”